Pork barrelling is alive and well in NZ First

It seems that NZ First are going to have a two-and-a-half-year election campaign, as the pork barrel politics have started already. It is one thing to try to rejuvenate the regions, but quite another to grossly over-allocate the funds to your home town.

[…] With the launch of his $1 billion provincial growth fund this morning, Jones’ office fired off eight press releases in less than eight minutes – each filled with specific spending commitments and fancy graphs about how much the regions contribute to our economy […]

For a journalist or opposition party, the scale is hard to immediately comprehend. You miss the forest for the trees. Investments of $100,000 are treated similarly to ones of a few million. Was this something new or just the same investments Government usually dole out in small bites all given up in one go?

It is something new. It is called bribing the locals to keep you in power. Actually, that is not new at all. Only the scale of it is new.

pork barrel politics

But making it confusing was kind of the point. Local papers across the country have their own chunk of the pie to show off. National news outlets end up having to just talk about the scale – the millions and millions of dollars pouring into the regions. It all looks very good for NZ First, who won the fund during negotiations, could use a polling bump, and pledged to help the regions in the campaign – particularly Northland, which secured over $17m.

Even better, this is an NZ First campaign not directly led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.[…] Labour are understood to be very happy to give NZ First this kind of win on their own […]  If there’s one thing you can get the Greens and NZ First to agree on, it’s spending more government money.

Is it pork barrel spending? Of course! But people like pork barrel spending when it comes into their communities. And as pork barrel spending goes, $61.7m for over 780 jobs isn’t all that bad – it comes out to just under $80,000 a pop.

Of course it is pork-barrel spending, and there will be plenty more of it before 2020 – all heading north of Auckland.

But shock and awe wears off quickly. In the end, I got all the specific spending commitments into a spreadsheet and added them up, ending up with the figure of $41 million. That’s $20m less than the $61.7m Jones has secured from Cabinet and is bandying about today (he’s saving up some more announcements for coming weeks) and far less than a tenth of the amount of money he gets to spend this year.

In other words, Jones has barely scratched the surface of this fund yet. He has $3b dollars to spend over the term – for context that’s $1b more than KiwiBuild gets. But while Labour has promised them the money, Jones still has to get the Finance Minister’s sign-off on any project over $1m – meaning Robertson is likely nixing anything which looks a little bit too profligate. So while Jones just got a big splash, he likely wanted a bigger one.

National has a narrow tightrope to walk on this one. The instinct of the party is to critique any spending by a Labour-led government, wasteful or not. But other than in Napier, every dollar of this fund is going to an electorate with a sitting National MP. The party was hardly against bribing the regions with the Government chequebook during the Northland byelection.

National’s job is to hold the government to account. If the current government is going to massively overspend in their election bribes, then it is their job to challenge it. And challenge it they will.

And of the latest projects, it turns out the biggest single spend is on exactly the thing National was always happy to pour money into: a road. Yes, the trainlines and ports will get the biggest headlines, but no single project comes close to the $9m NZTA will be spending on a roundabout in Northland. In the end, everything comes full circle.

NZ First are worried. They know their numbers are down, and you can say what you like about Winston Peters and Shane Jones, but they are not stupid. If they fall below 5% at the next election which looks likely, although we have a way to go yet – then they are doomed unless they can win an electoral seat. Well, guess what! The most lavish election campaign in the history of New Zealand has just started. And, it is your money that they are using to do it.

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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.